Apple Arcade is a subscription service that lets users play dozens of iPad, iPhone, Mac and Apple TV games (more than 100 eventually; currently there are 80) as often as they like for a set monthly fee. But which ones are worth your time?
We've been burning our way through Arcade's library ever since the launch of iOS 13, and will keep going until we've tested and ranked every single one. Our ranking of the best Apple Arcade games is therefore a work in progress, and will be updated once a week - every Friday at noon UK time - until we've played everything. This week's new games are Oceanhorn 2 (9), Exit the Gungeon (11) and Patterned (17).
We tested primarily on iPhone. We also tried all the games with an Xbox controller and indicate in the article whether this worked (some did despite not mentioning this on their App Store listing) and how well it suited the gameplay; other Bluetooth controllers should work too but if support for a particular model is a dealbreaker we recommend contacting the developer to check.
Our advice on whether the service is worth the subscription fee can be found at Should I get Apple Arcade?
1. What The Golf?
This bizarre and genuinely funny sports sim - "Golf for people who hate golf" - hits a hole in one for relentless ingenuity: the courses feature exploding barrels, cats and runaway cars, and half the time you find yourself playing with a cow or a carpet instead of a ball. As soon as you feel like the makers must have exhausted the possibilities of the format they surprise you yet again.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but we don't recommend it) • What The Golf? on the App Store
2. Bleak Sword
Devolver's low-fi action RPG takes the style and atmosphere of Dark Souls and puts it through an 8bit filter. Use quick swipes to dodge monsters and slash them bloodily to pieces: it's fast, exciting and masses of fun - as well as super-cool to look at.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Bleak Sword on the App Store
Here's Arcade's take on the Bejeweled/Candy Crush template, and as you'd expect it's both gorgeous and far more interesting than most of the clones in that space.
Trace a path across matching creatures - accounting for certain complications, such as treasure chests, boss monsters and magic stones that let you transition to a different colour - and then hit Go. Instead of a gentle tinkling of jewels, you'll be rewarded with a ridiculously gory (albeit cartoonish) animation.
Far easier to pick up than it is to put down, Grindstone also wins the prize for the most addictive Arcade game we've yet tried.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (awkwardly) • Grindstone on the App Store
4. Shinsekai Into the Depths
Cast into a stunningly detailed, treacherous underwater world, you will be pursued not only by ice slowly setting in but a swathe of sea creatures ranging from cute to downright terrifying. Blast around with jet packs, mine minerals to convert into oxygen and uncover the secrets of the depths in this gorgeous, vibrant and unique underwater exploration game.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Shinsekai Into the Depths on the App Store
Turn-based squad strategy game that strongly recalls the classic board game Space Hulk, only simpler and graphically cuter.
Controlling a handful of heroic space rangers, you're investigating an alien-riddled abandoned colony, shooting, kicking and grenading your way to various mission goals. Great fun.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spaceland on the App Store
6. Card of Darkness
Wonderful to look at (unsurprisingly, since the animator Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame was involved), Card of Darkness proves it's more than a pretty face with an elegant and compelling design with masses of depth.
Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • Card of Darkness on the App Store
7. Cricket Through the Ages
This utterly ridiculous ragdoll cricket sim made us laugh constantly. Very silly, and very fun.
Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Cricket Through the Ages on the App Store
Look up the word charming in the dictionary and you ought to see a screenshot of this nostalgically animated adventure game, in which you solve a variety of problems such as slaying a dragon and capturing a priest's soul.
Unusually, it takes the form of a card game - each time you collect an item, or acquire a new character, this is added to your deck and played at opportune moments. But we found this to be more an aesthetic than a gameplay decision: in practical terms playing a card works out largely the same as pressing a 'use X with Y' button.
No, this game is all about the character, which is simultaneously dark and adorable, the weird leaps of logic and the gorgeous look. It also has respectable replayability, since there are multiple solutions and multiple endings, and 45 achievement cards to collect.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (sort of, and it's better on touchscreen anyway) • Pilgrims on the App Store
9. Oceanhorn 2
Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is hands-down one of the most beautifully crafted, console-like games available as part of Apple Arcade. Though the original wasn't to be sniffed at, Oceanhorn 2 takes the RPG experience to the next level with high-end 3D graphics, tactical combat and an engaging story that'll keep you hooked as you hack-and-slash your way across the huge open-world map.
There are meaningful gameplay improvements too, including a new caster weapon that can wipe out gangs of enemies with an explosive fireball or a blast of ice, and the ability to heal yourself mid-battle with a spell.
The touchscreen controls are good, incidentally, but for the full experience we'd recommend a hardware controller.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Oceanhorn 2 on the App Store
10. Sneaky Sasquatch
A cheeky stealth game with the merest hint of Surgeon Simulator, Sneaky Sasquatch is charming and masses of fun. You play as the titular hirsute cryptid and have to tiptoe (and occasionally sprint) around the bins, barbecues and caravans of an unnamed US national park, trying to avoid the prying eyes and ears of the tourists and park rangers who want to stop you getting your hands on their tasty pickernick baskets.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Sneaky Sasquatch on the App Store
11. Exit the Gungeon
Fiendishly difficult bullet-hell shooter with lo-fi graphics and a great sense of humour.
You're trying to escape from the 'Gungeon' by ascending through levels infested with gun- and pun-toting bad guys. Fortunately you have a gun of your own (which continually changes form, enabling you to shoot skulls, bubbles and musical notes as well as the more traditional bullets) and the ability to evade danger with dodge rolls.
Early runs will end in swift death, but stick with it; the game rewards perseverance. If you liked Super Crate Box - and who didn't? - then you'll love this.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Exit the Gungeon on the App Store
12. Assemble with Care
This gentle puzzler from Ustwo Games, on a hot streak after producing the two Monument Valley games, is a delight. You play as Maria, an antiques restorer on a working holiday, and get to know the inhabitants of the town of Bellariva as you mend their most treasured objects. The story is occasionally a tiny bit heavy-handed, but it's also sweet and very beautiful.
Read more in our full Assemble with Care review.
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Assemble with Care on the App Store
13. Sayonara Wild Hearts
Static screenshots don't do justice to Sayonara's joyous combo of speed and music. This is all about overwhelming the senses - as well as a soundtrack so great that we've been listening to little else on Apple Music, it has a neon fantasy look all its own - and pushing your fast-twitch responses to the limit.
Why isn't it top-ten material, then? The touchscreen controls aren't great. You can direct your motorbike/car/ghostly stag/whatever you're driving in the current level with swipes or by leaning a finger in either direction, but this is neither easy nor intuitive at high speed. It's immensely better with a hardware controller, we're happy to report.
(Also, make sure you turn off the skip feature in the settings. It's a nice idea for the game to offer to bypass sections you've repeatedly failed, but in practice it's hugely demoralising.)
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Sayonara Wild Hearts on the App Store
14. Mini Motorways
We've all been stuck in traffic and exclaimed to our passengers that we could devise a better road system than the local council. Mini Motorways lets you put that claim to the test, tasking you with developing an ever-growing road and motorway network for busy cities around the world with the aim of getting busy residents from point A to B.
It's a challenge at first, giving you a newfound appreciation for those much-maligned municipal planners, but as you learn the nuances your confidence - and the complexity of your road systems - will increase.
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Mini Motorways on the App Store
15. The Pinball Wizard
What if the song Pinball Wizard was about an actual... wizard? So, presumably, ran the thought processes of the developers responsible for this adorably silly number, in which you climb a tower whose floors take the form of increasingly difficult pinball tables and your little magic user acts as the projectile.
We love the idea that a game was created on the strength of a single flimsy pun, but Pinball Wizard is a decent offering in its own right: the RPG elements give it replay value and the whole thing is perfectly suited to bite-sized gaming sessions.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Pinball Wizard on the App Store
16. Super Impossible Road
Created by the minds behind the original Impossible Road game for iOS, Super Impossible Road takes the ball-rolling experience to a whole new level. You're still tasked with keeping the ball on the road for as long as possible - which in itself is a challenge - but you've also got access to a career mode with a number of challenges and an online mode where you can showcase your death-defying leaps from the track and beat your buddies at the same time.
It's not a game that you'll spend hours on at a time, but it's a great time killer if you've got a spare five minutes.
Age 4+ • 1-8 players • No controller support • Super Impossible Road on the App Store
Frazzled commuters will enjoy this soothing puzzler, which brings the pleasures of a Bank Holiday jigsaw to your mobile screen - in both landscape and portrait mode, which is an unusual bonus.
Each level begins life as a silent black-and-white sketch, but as you place the right pieces on to the board the colours gradually reappear and music plays. It's all rather lovely, and the back-to-front difficulty curve - tricky at first but easier as the pieces build up - is generally satisfying.
We will add, however, that the level-specific difficulty is wildly inconsistent, and there's no apparent way to request an easy or advanced puzzle. It all depends on how repetitive the pattern is, and to what extent this repetition happens to map to the grid: on Kawaii Cookout we kept getting pieces that fitted perfectly in four different places, which turned it into unsatisfying trial and error.
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Patterned on the App Store
Sharing numerous beats with Assemble With Care, Possessions also weaves an understated story around a series of simple puzzles. And if that's your jam you should undoubtedly try both.
In this case the puzzles are so easy and the entire thing so brief (you'll finish in 45 minutes) that in pure gaming terms we have to rank it a little lower. The 'moral of the story' is also rather simple (and probably guessable from the title), but we love the game's wordless delivery of that message: it first encourages you to explore and revel in beautiful spaces, and then makes you question what those spaces are really worth.
Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • Possessions on the App Store
19. Shantae and the Seven Sirens
Polished but largely conventional action-platformer in which a half-naked half-genie leaps about the screen killing baddies with her hair and, later, magic. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, although we found the onscreen controls super-frustrating, frequently hitting jump instead of attack (or vice-versa) at critical moments - it's much better when played with a hardware controller.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Shantae and the Seven Sirens on the App Store
We've been having some good times with this turn-based tactical RPG, which is deep, tense and blessed with excellent artwork. But here's our reservation: the card-playing elements feel like an afterthought.
Deck building is a fashionable (and very rewarding) genre but blending it into an RPG framework is not easy. Spelldrifter waits a fair while, perhaps tellingly, before letting you have any control over your cards, and even then you're constructing your deck between fights rather than in-game - in other words, it's more Magic: The Gathering than Ascension. The cards themselves look great but they're mostly just attacks, heals and buffs; you don't get a lot of the interesting combos and synergies that you get in Dream Quest, for instance.
Also, parents of small children may find that the cock-rock soundtrack reminds them of Blaze and the Monster Machines, which rather undercuts the atmosphere.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spelldrifter on the App Store
Tasteful but slightly antiseptic puzzle game in which you manipulate perspective (hence, presumably, the name) to guide a ball around line-drawn objects. Undeniably cleverly designed, Spek shares Monument Valley's sense of optical mischief - and relatively gentle difficulty curve - but not its heart.
Bonus points, however, for the interesting AR mode, where the puzzles are projected on to the surfaces of your home, office etc and you reach a solution by physically walking around.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spek on the App Store
This gorgeous, gentle puzzler puts you in the role of a back-garden watercolorist. On each level a few blobs of paint are dripped on to your canvas, along with one or more 'targets' which you have to reach with a specific colour by applying swiped brushstrokes and, frequently, mixing two colours together.
This simple concept is quickly complicated by mazes of pre-painted lines and colour-cancelling water droplets, and the 50 levels provided at launch (the end credits say more are on the way) get reasonably mind-bending by the end, while remaining pleasingly relaxing at the same time.
But there's a messiness to the puzzles that we found unsatisfying - sometimes you're not sure if you're doing the wrong thing, or doing the right thing clumsily (this isn't helped by the puzzle being partially hidden under your finger). And often the solution turns out to be "go round the back of that blob that doesn't look there's enough room behind it".
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • tint. on the App Store
23. Projection: First Light
This stunning-looking platformer is distinctly reminiscent of Limbo, which is no bad thing; but whereas that game used shadows to conjure an atmosphere of dread, Projection feels more magical.
It's set in a world of shadow puppets: the key is manipulating the light source to create and transform shadows for moving around the levels. It's a clever gimmick but it takes a while to get going and the control method - as on Limbo, to be fair - is a little frustrating.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Projection: First Light on the App Store
24. Skate City
Attractive and popular skateboard sim from the makers of, and similar to, Alto's Adventure. Muted, chilled-out visuals and music generate bags of atmosphere and there are lots of special tricks and character customisations to unlock.
We would add, however, that a 2D skating game loses the exploratory aspect of a Tony Hawk: stairs, ramps, rails etc are brought to you in automatic sequence rather than having to be discovered. And squares like us may find that all skateboard moves look pretty much the same when rendered as realistically as they are here.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Skate City on the App Store
25. Red Reign
A cute-looking real-time strategy game blended from equal parts Kingdom Rush and old-school Warcraft. The visuals are nice and it's all very jolly but we find the control method a bit fiddly, even with a hardware controller.
Age 9+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Red Reign on the App Store
26. Hot Lava
If you ever played 'the floor is lava' as a child - which is maybe more of a US than British thing - then this game will press all sorts of jolly nostalgia buttons in your brain. In this case, of course, there's no need to use the wonderful power of a child's imagination because the floor is literally lava, and it's up to you to navigate around the rooms and levels via furniture, hanging brackets and pipes and so on.
It's a great idea (and the Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic is lovely), but the first-person 3D perspective makes it difficult to jump accurately. A controller helps, though.
Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Hot Lava on the App Store
27. Dear Reader
Word game in which you work your way through literary classics, rearranging jumbled sentences and tapping on spelling mistakes. Cosmetically lovely, and we so wanted to like this - but while the idea seems to be that you gain a new-found love of literature by playing with its component parts, our experience was that we skipped across the surface instead. And it's ultimately a tiny bit dull.
Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Dear Reader on the App Store
This high-speed puzzler looks ugly, but more troublingly it is rife with freemium-esque behaviour. Whenever you die, the game reminds you that you can spend coins to restart from a checkpoint; do almost anything for the first time and the game rewards you with a 'skin' for your hexagon sprite, which it then nags you to use.
It's not possible to spend real-world money on coins and skins in Hexaflip, or in any Apple Arcade game; but it's pretty obvious that this was originally designed with money grubbing in mind. And that manifests itself in ways more fundamental to the gameplay than cosmetic add-ons - such as the overhelpful tutorial and too-shallow difficulty curve, both presumably intended to keep punters in the game (and potentially spending money) as long as possible.
This is a shame because Hexaflip's central mechanic - tapping left or right to flip a hexagon through an obstacle course as fast as possible - is fun and, once it gets going, genuinely challenging. We just wish a less mercenary (or mercenary-seeming) game could have been built around it.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Hexaflip on the App Store
29. Big Time Sports
The oversized sprites are a visual delight, but in gameplay terms this one feels like a filler, largely following the Daley Thompson's Decathlon tradition of tapping buttons to match timers, or simply as fast as you can. A few events, such as football, are a lot of fun, but most are pretty boring.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Big Time Sports on the App Store
30. Frogger in Toy Town
Frogger in Toy Town is the least fun Arcade game we've tried so far. How strange that Apple chose it as the showpiece for the service.
Yep, it's Frogger, only with modern graphics and a few concessions to the gameplay conventions of 2019. It's not terrible, by any means - we suspect Apple won't allow any stinkers on to Arcade - and certainly looks nice. But it's not exactly thrilling.
Most importantly the swipe/tap controls are not responsive enough to induce the sense of 'jeopardy narrowly escaped' which was so fundamental to the original's charm. (Using a hardware controller improves things a little.) And we must confess that we were getting mildly bored before we got to the end of the first level.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Frogger in Toy Town on the App Store